jessikaobrien02

Jessika O’Brien
English major, Creative Writing concentration

 

By the time English major Jessika O’Brien entered college at 24 years old, most of her friends had already finished their degrees. While they’d been in school, she’d spent five years in the Navy being educated in seamanship, electronics, and missile systems.

Jessika grew up in a “white-bread town in Northern Colorado” and the only diversity training she received in the Navy she describes this way,

These minimalist courses would explain that people from all walks of life had different skills and perspectives to contribute to whatever missions were at hand. The military saw no reason to go into detail about the unique cultures that every person came from, or what they were taught to understand or believe in, or why they felt the way they felt about America’s Eurocentric culture, or even that they felt anything at all. There was no encouragement to truly understand; merely tolerating one another was enough for the navy to maintain an efficient workforce as well as appear politically correct.

Because of where she grew up, the Navy was the first time Jessika had lived and worked with “non-white” people. In the Navy, while they worked efficiently together, she noticed “favoritism up and down the chain, and the clear sight of people of different races feeling most comfortable among those of their own race,” and “the military also taught me that men are superior to women.”

As one result of the type of language considered normal, women in the military are taught to compete with one another, not learn from one another. Most women in power were far crueler and demeaning to lower-ranking women than even the men were. I was taught to see us females as divided as much as I saw those of Filipino, African, and European heritage divided each from the other. Cultural and gender divisions stem from the same type of mentality that the war culture has between countries; we must fight to be on top, which follows that others must be beneath us. This regresses our society’s ability to work together to solve problems.

Sadly, for Jessika the military “had successfully crippled any naïve ideas I’d ever held for the unity of mankind.” And yet, even though this experience left her disappointed, Jessika isn’t without hope. She understands how change might happen, and where.

The only way to bring an end to these racist and sexist normalcies in our culture is through the education of our youth, who are impressionable and still establishing their ideas about reality. If we can imbue our students of America with the consistent insistence that all races, genders and peoples should all be regarded as equal to one another, studied equally as equal contributors to the annals of human history, then we can actually accomplish the promise that our Declaration of Independence vows to uphold. Given that educational institutions are responsible for raising several millions of Americans today, they have the power and ability to instill this very great concept of equality and bring races back together, bring women back together, and gradually alter the war culture that Americans are taught is necessary. Our tool is education, a more progressive education. Our medium is the university. We have the power. Educators in American have the most power of all.

Jessika’s proof comes from her own experience. After just three semesters at CSU,

I’ve had my brain blown open with realizations that the military did in fact reinforce racist and sexist beliefs, and I had taken these horrifying beliefs to heart without even realizing it. Through realization, I have been able to begin to strip away my bigotry and see the world through a new lens of sisterhood, brotherhood and a budding appreciation for those I had seen as “other.” I did not come to this cognitive revolution because my hometown had filled with racial diversity while I was gone. What flung me apart and accreted me back together was Colorado State University’s English program. Prerequisites such as British literature and introductory poetry had such a strong focus on highlighting centuries of oppression and setting women and African Americans as equal to white men, that I finally saw the truth again that all people are equal and must work together and be taught in unison to upheave ignorance.

In a paper written for a CO300: Writing Arguments course taught by Ashley Davies at CSU in the summer of 2016 (the same paper all previous quotes and excerpts were taken from), Jessika sums up her position this way,

English programs should evaluate their curriculums for signs of colonialism, and take affirmative action to teach poets and writers of varying nationalities, races, genders, sexualities and disabilities.

When budding students’ doors of perception are opened like mine have begun to open, they will learn lessons that will affect them for the rest of their lives, and English educators will be the ones responsible for altering the course of humanity into a society of creatures that can work together, and evolve beyond what we believe is possible. We know where the true power on earth lies; not in the military industrial complex, but in our classrooms.